Celtic, thanks to goals from James Forrest and Moussa Dembele, claimed their 4th successive domestic honour today with a victory over Motherwell in the BetFred Cup Final at Hampden Park.
With the majority of the pre-match build-up focused on how Celtic would react to their midweek thrashing at the hands of PSG and how Motherwell’s aggressive style of play could help them become the first team to defeat Brendan Rodgers Celtic in a domestic match, the scene was set for an intriguing encounter.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the first half did not live up this billing as both sides failed to create clear-cut chances of note. On several occasions, Celtic attacks broke down on the edge of the Motherwell penalty area as key passes went astray while at the other end Craig Gordon’s only real first-half involvement was a routine save from a Louis Moult free kick.
That is not to say that the half passed without incident as Motherwell’s Cedric Kipre was lucky not to see red, or at least yellow, for a foul on Moussa Dembele that went unnoticed by ref Craig Thomson; the Frenchman going in studs up and over the top of the ball on his countryman as he bore down on goal.
The game threatened to boil over for a few minutes after that challenge and Dembele himself was booked for a reckless tackle on Carl McHugh as he sought retribution for the previous foul. However, calm was soon restored and a rather dull ending to the half proceeded before Craig Thomson’s whistle did everyone a favour by bringing it to an end.
Celtic had dominated possession but done precious little with it. Sinclair was out of sorts, Armstrong had failed to get a hold of the midfield and other than the fouls he was involved in, Dembele’s input had been negligible.
Motherwell, on the other hand, had offered very little in attack but always carried a threat through Louis Moult, and their defensive stubbornness had stifled Celtic’s attack. At half-time, they would certainly have been the happier of the two sides.
If the last 16 months or so have taught us anything it is that under Brendan Rodgers Celtic will very rarely suffer two consecutive poor 45 minutes in domestic football; that was not about to change today.
Within 5 minutes of the restart, James Forrest had weaved his way in from the right to curl a superb left-foot effort into the far corner and out of Trevor Carson’s reach. 1-0 Celtic.
Moments later and the true turning point of the game arrived – and it is probably not the one you’ll read about elsewhere – as Craig Gordon made an incredible reflex save at point blank range to deny Louis Moult a quick equaliser. It goes without saying that a Motherwell goal at this stage of the game would’ve changed it completely and given the Steelmen renewed optimism that they could go on and lift the Cup. Gordon’s wonder save robbed them of that opportunity and soon after Celtic doubled their advantage as Moussa Dembele scored from the spot after Scott Sinclair was felled by that man Cedric Kipre.
Now, the debate will rage on as to whether or not it was a penalty, however, as soft a call as it was, there was contact from Kipre’s hand on Sinclair’s back. The Celtic winger tumbled to the ground giving Thomson a decision to make; he pointed to the spot. It’s the type of decision you call for your own team and despair when it goes against you. What is not up for debate is the red card given to Kipre. That was a ludicrous decision as the challenge in no way merited a red; unless, of course, Thomson had remembered Kipre’s earlier foul on Dembele and thought that surely he’d already been booked for that.
Regardless, the fall out saw Celtic take a two-goal lead and a one-man advantage.
From this point on it was a continuation of the one way traffic that the second had become, even before the red. Celtic threatened on numerous occasions to extend their lead with Armstrong, Roberts, and McGregor all coming close from distance while the normally reliable Leigh Griffiths passed up two very presentable opportunities. At the other end, Craig Gordon may as well have popped his slippers and smoking jacket on due to the lack of action coming his way.
Motherwell will have a chance to avenge this latest defeat at the hands of Celtic when the sides on Wednesday night at Fir Park but, once again, today belongs to Celtic – The Bhoys They Couldn’t Beat.